Stating that the court was satisfied with the updated guidelines, it disposed of the petition.
Flight operations in India: The Bombay High Court on Monday allowed airlines to allot middle seats, if required. However, it directed the airlines to follow all the standard operating procedures (SOPs) laid down by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The petition had alleged that Air India had violated the norms for COVID-19 air travel and sought direction to the airlines that the middle seats be kept vacant to ensure that social distancing is followed inside the aircraft.
In its order, the High Court noted that the DGCA’s updated guidelines issued on May 31 after the Supreme Court’s order have taken into consideration adequate security measures based on the recommendations of an expert committee. Stating that the court was satisfied with the updated guidelines, it disposed of the petition.
Updated guidelines issued by DGCA and accepted by Bombay HC
The DGCA’s updated guidelines, in accordance with the expert committee’s suggestions, were issued on May 31. These guidelines are applicable to scheduled and non-scheduled flights alike, as ordered by the Supreme Court.
- Airlines must provide all the passengers with safety kits, including face shields, three-layered surgical masks, and sachet or bottle of adequate hand sanitizer.
- The DGCA suggested that the seat allotment should allow for middle seats or seats between passengers to remain vacant if allowed by passenger load and seat capacity. However, family members can be seated together.
- The guidelines ordered that in case middle seats cannot be kept vacant, then the passengers sitting on such seats should be given wrap gowns, as per the standard approved by the Union Ministry of Textiles, in addition to face masks and shields.
- Meals and drinking water cannot be served aboard the aircraft, except for extreme circumstances due to health conditions.
- The boarding and deboarding should be carried out in an orderly and sequential manner and the airlines should advise passengers to not rush to the entry and exit gates.
- Aircrafts should ensure that the air conditioning is set to replace the air within the flight in the shortest interval possible.
- After every sector, the aircraft would be sanitised once all passengers have deboarded, and during transit flights, all the seats vacated by passengers at a stop would be sanitised. The guidelines further ordered that at the end of each day, the aircrafts must be deep cleaned. Apart from this, the lavatories must be sanitised at regular intervals during the flight.
- If there is a COVID-19 emergency on board, the disinfection of the aircraft must be carried out, and special attention must be paid to the affected seat and adjoining ones.
- The guidelines also ordered that airlines or airports must look at the possibility of installing a disinfection tunnel to ensure the safety of passengers. However, this should only be done after evaluating the implications of such a tunnel on human health.
High Court’s order on DGCA guidelines
The HC said that it was of the view that even if the middle seat is not kept vacant, the guidelines have ensured that adequate safety measures are in place to keep the infection as low as possible within the aircraft. It further said that the guidelines had merely suggested and not mandated that the middle seat be kept vacant, and the airlines could forego that system of seat allotment if other precautionary measures were in place.
The court, in its judgement, also noted that face masks worn by two people would minimise the risk of infection, as explained by the expert committee, and an efficient air conditioning system would only enhance it.
It also emphasized on the expert committee’s suggestion that if the person in the middle seat is wearing additional protective gear, it would have the same effect as the seat remaining vacant.
The judgement also noted that the petitioner furthered his case using unscientific arguments on the assumption that all the evacuated citizens who tested positive upon landing in India caught the infection in the flight. The bench noted that it could instill fear and panic among the public even without any solid proof and so, the court would favour the panel of experts whose suggestions have been included in the updated guidelines.